Wanted: Ragpickers with good track record

“Rail Cleanup – Wanted: Ragpickers with good track record” is the title of an article in the Hindustan Times by Rajendra Aklekar, reporting on the Central Railway’s decision to hire ragpickers to remove garbage at 31 selected railway stations and sections of track in the Mumbai division “after the last local of the day passes by.”

Skill sets will include working in extreme weathers [sic] and spotting rubbish.

Aklekar’s title is by far the best of a number of articles published on the directive to all divisional railway managers to hire ragpickers through contractors to clean the railway lines as part of “Cleanliness Year: 2007” declared by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. (The Times of India reports that the Northern Railways will phase in ragpickers at 40 stations in and around Delhi: “Ragpickers to help Railways in cleanliness drive” while Livemint carries the same story under the title: “Railways outsourcing cleanliness to ragpickers”.)

The ragpickers will be assessed for collection and cleaning on a scale of 100 and will get paid only if their performance is up to the mark, according to the project document on Rag Picking and Garbage Disposal.

Ragpickers, or more accurately, scavengers, currently pick up trash at the railway stations and along the tracks every day.  They do so barefoot and gloveless, hauling a giant plastic bag over their shoulders (or on their heads, when full).

They will be equipped with masks, latex rubber hand-gloves, safety shoes, nylon brushes and brooms, polythene bags, dustpans and wheeled trolleys.

Handicapped young adults or small urchin boys will sometimes enter the train compartments and sweep the dirt and trash accumulated on the floor with a piece of newspaper or scrap of rag to collect a few rupees.  If no one in the compartment gives them anything, they will move on to the next compartment without sweeping the collected mound from the aisle onto the tracks.

“The ragpickers are supposed to pick up plastic bottles, rags, papers, tetra packs and any other loose material lying on the tracks within 50 meters of both ends of a platform,” said a senior railway official, requesting anonymity. “They will also keep clean the garden area and halt boards and collect floating waste from the drains near the tracks.”

Sounds like a good thing, right? Destitute, homeless immigrants finally getting a chance at a better-paying “job”, with protective gear and equipment.

Let me relate a disgusted remark by a young friend who reported that bus drivers were now required to complete the 10th standard: the bus drivers will be exactly the same, they will now have to pay more in bribes to get their jobs.

The cynic in me assumes that the lot of the ragpickers will not improve.  The contractors will make money, the Railway officials will get richer, and the protective gear and equipment will never reach the ragpickers.


1 Response to “Wanted: Ragpickers with good track record”

  1. 1 Rajendra Aklekar March 18, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    this is rajendra aklekar. thanks for the feedback on my article.


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